Bob Goepfert Reviews "Dancing Lessons" at Barrington Stage Company

Aug 19, 2014

“Dancing Lessons” is a delightful theater experience.  That, despite the fact, it is a  romantic-comedy that does not offer a look at anything new.  Instead it’s refreshing look at a familiar story.

Indeed, the charming world-premiere production at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass., smartly written by Mark St. Germain and tenderly directed by Julianne Boyd, reminds you that familiarity can be a virtue.

There can be no spoilers offered about “Dancing Lessons.”  That’s because, we’ve all seen the play before.  For sure the tale has been offered with different twists, but it is essentially a story of opposites attracting and the person who appears the most troubled helping the seemingly healthier person in the relationship.  

From the moment Ever, a brilliant scientist with Asperger’s syndrome, knocks on the door of Senga to request a dance lesson you know how the play will end.  What you cannot know is the lovely and endearing journey the two will take before they share a play ending dance that is deliciously sentimental without feeling manipulative.

Both characters live an isolated life.  Ever suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that fosters a fear of social intimacy.  Senga is a Broadway dancer who is suffering from a severe leg injury caused from being hit by a cab.   

She is hiding from the world, while he is trying to function in the world.  If ever the term “two sides of the same coin” is applicable it is with Senga and Ever.  

His troubles are created by being seeing the world (and people) in a realistic manner and being brutally honest about what he sees.   Society has difficulty accepting such frankness.

She prefers to dream that her leg will be mended by operations, even though a genetic disorder makes her allergic to anesthesia - a problem that could kill her in an operating room.  The world accepts her delusional clinging to hope as bravery.

As the play progresses both individuals learn to trust each other, which means they learn to trust themselves.  The beauty of the writing is the relationship develops honestly.  The gift the actors give to the playwright is creating characters about whom we care and want to see together.

John Cariani is marvelous as Ever. He creates a man who is wise but vulnerable, fragile yet strong, and comic without ever being demeaning to his disabled character.   His portrayal takes an arc that is natural, focused and honest.  It’s a gem of an acting job that is a joy to experience.

Paige Davis is also effective in showing Senga as a closed off person who is angry about her fate and trapped by her fears.  Her transformation is lovely to watch as her affection for Ever begins to help her more than it does him.

If there is an improvement to be made in the work it is that as written Senga’s revelations about the true nature of her pain comes rather abruptly.   Could the audience be given a little foreshadowing about her inner-conflicts her emotional transition would be even more satisfying.  

“Dancing Lessons” is Barrington Stage’s season ending gift to the community.  It’s a charming 95-minutes of enchantment.  And, as a plus, we all learn a lot more about the world of autism.   Actually the real lesson in “Dancing Lessons” is that “normal” people (or as Ever calls them, neurotypicals) are sometimes the most troubled individuals in society.

“Dancing Lessons” repeats what even the most ancient of romances tell us - love can create strange bedfellows and heal the deepest wounds.

“Dancing Lessons” at Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union Street, Pittsfield, Mass.  Through Saturday.    413-236-8888.

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.   

 

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